This is an evidence-based practice paper whose purpose is to analyze the impact of service-learning in a first-year engineering course on students who chose to enroll in these sections. The paper will also look at the level of engagement the students experience and their connection to an urban community. Past literature revealed that students understand an engineering design process when the practice is implemented in a service learning environment. The focus of this research is to see if these findings hold true in this University, if service learning efforts have enhanced or detracted from students’ engineering education as a whole in comparison to their non-service learning peers, and if the practices and outcomes of these sections create new trajectories and plans for students, specifically whether it enhances future involvement in community outreach efforts.
Unknown University is a top fifty university located adjacent to the unnamed section of Boston, Massachusetts. It has been shaped by its urban backdrop, though only recently has it pursued a community engagement effort. Among its entering class are approximately 750 first year undergraduate engineering students on campus. Each engineering student is required to take a design course titled Cornerstone in Engineering. Each Cornerstone in Engineering course has an overarching theme to connect work in design, AutoCAD®, C++, SolidWorks®, and MATLAB®. The sample groups for this research come from the four robotics sections of Cornerstone, each with approximately 32 students. Two sections are filled with students who have volunteered to be placed in a service learning curriculum. The other two sections are filled with a random distribution of the remaining entering class. This service learning Cornerstone curriculum is in its second year long installment.
Students in all four sections were given an anonymous voluntary entry survey to determine a baseline. 61 students from the service learning sections completed the survey and 29 students from the remaining two sections completed the survey. Students reported similar enthusiasm for and grades in high school core subjects. Overall, students received grades in the A to B range. The survey showed the general trend was that most students feel prepared for college and engineering coursework. Overall, on a scale from one to ten, students ranked their preparedness for Cornerstone in Engineering at a six and a half. These factors outline that the two sample groups have compatible entry skillsets, preparation, and understanding.
Items of interest for this research so far includes how service learning affects engineering student’s commitment to the local community surrounding them and how service learning affects the comprehension of material covered in an engineering classroom. For this, students were asked in the entry survey about their understanding of and obligations to the community surrounding the university. Students were also asked about how service learning would/will affect their college experience and academics. It was found that students who volunteered to be in a service learning section disagreed with the statement “I currently know the community surrounding Unknown University” while the other sections tended to agree with the statement. Overall, students in the service learning sections were more likely to agree that they have an obligation to interact with and to add to the community compared to the non-service learning sections as well as agree that working in the community would enhance their academics and experience at Unknown University compared to the other sections.
All four sections are being taught the same curriculum. The continuous in-class project for these sections is a sumo robot built using a SparkFun kit. The two service learning sections have the additional requirement of going to a community partner once a week for approximately ten weeks during the semester. At their community partner, each student works with two children between the 5th and 7th grades on either Lego® EV3 Mindstorm robots or SparkFun sumo robots. Each student is given the opportunity to teach their pair of children while having a mentor at the site to ask questions to.
At the end of the semester, students will be given a similar survey to the entry survey. The exit survey will focus more heavily on the students’ experiences at their sites and their view of the community. Students in the service learning section will be asked several open ended questions to gauge overall experience with service learning and to see how their quantitative changes match up with their qualitative feelings. Reflections on Service-learning through discussion boards and essays will be analyzed for common themes and further support on the impact of the service learning focus.
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